DLA Distribution Norfolk team player with Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard in Pacer Goose 2015

By Dawn Bonsell DLA Distribution Public Affairs

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In early July, the Ocean Giant set sail from Norfolk Naval Base with 2 million pounds of supplies on an 11-day voyage to the U.S. Armed Forces’ northernmost military installation in the world. Defense Logistics Agency Distribution Norfolk, Va., was part of the team tasked with the U.S. Space Command’s yearly surface resupply for 650 U.S. Air Force personnel at Thule Air Force Base, Greenland, in support of Operation Pacer Goose 2015. According to Navy Capt. Harry T. Thetford, commander, DLA Distribution Norfolk, “Operation Pacer Goose is a joint operation that takes an immense amount of teamwork.” 

While other supplies are flown in throughout the year, Operation Pacer Goose delivers the larger, bulkier items that would be cost prohibitive to fly into the installation.  The Military Sealift Command contracts a cargo vessel (the Ocean Giant) for the mission to Greenland, the U.S. Coast Guard provides a ship to escort the vessel through the icy waters, and DLA Distribution Norfolk is in charge of loading the vessel, including freight which is too big or too heavy to fit into seavan containers.

Located 750 miles north of the Arctic Circle,  resupply for the installation by ship occurs only once a year, typically in the summer months when the ice around Thule thins enough to be broken up, allowing vessels to safely pull into port.  A U.S. Coast Guard vessel will meet up with the Ocean Giant about 500 miles away from Thule Air Force Base near Disko Island where the ice starts to thicken. “We could be looking at free water of four feet of ice. The Coast Guard vessel will go ahead of us and break the ice in our path to ensure the safety of the ship, the 19-person crew and supplies,” said the ship’s captain, Capt. Matthew Craven.  

The distribution center’s Intermodal Hub receives Pacer Goose freight from supply distribution centers and vendors across the country. The team then in-checks the freight, packs the smaller items into seavan containers, loads larger items onto flatracks, and places the huge items on low-boy trailers. Sailors from Naval Cargo Handling Battalion One assist in loading the Ocean Giant with supplies including large cargo, vehicles, medical supplies, food and other exchange items.

DLA Distribution Norfolk general foreman George Brackett has been working with Operation Pacer Goose for the past 28 years, even before he became a DLA Distribution employee. Brackett says his role is to make sure everyone is safe. “We’re loading a large snow plow on the ship. For safety purposes, we need to make sure we have the correct gear to secure it and set it in the hole so that we’re doing our job efficiently and effectively and no one gets hurt.”

The annual operation to resupply Thule began in 1952 using U.S. Navy combatant ships to transport goods. DLA Distribution Norfolk Intermodal Hub has supported this operation in a ship loading capacity since 1997. “Operation Pacer Goose is an unusual name for an operation, one of the most unusual I’ve heard in over 26 years in the military. I did some research and discovered that the word pacer is affiliated with the Air Force Logistics Command and the word ‘goose’ represents the large population of geese in Greenland. Pacer Goose, like all military operations, is a team effort. Together, we serve the warfighter, and we are focused on efficiently and safely completing this mission for the young women and men serving our nation inside the Arctic Circle,” concluded Thetford.

The Ocean Giant is scheduled to arrive in Greenland for cargo offload in mid-July where the ship will then be reloaded with cargo containers and other items that need to be returned to Norfolk Naval Base.